Star of the future

The elegant Spurs midfielder has risen to prominence since making his debut against Southampton, writes Charlie Scott.

Back in December 2013, journalists were furiously typing the name Nabil Bentaleb into search engines to find out anything about the 19-year-old after his name was listed on the Tottenham Hotspur team-sheet for their match against Southampton.

At the time he did not even have a Wikipedia page. Two months and 11 disciplined performances later the holding midfielder is on the brink of a World Cup squad spot.

Tim Sherwood’s side won that English Premier League game against Southampton 3-2, with Bentaleb impressing after replacing Moussa Dembele in the second-half.

“It’s about the heat of the battle and knowing who you can trust, and the kid’s ready to play,” said Sherwood, who coached Bentaleb at the under-21 level last season.

“I knew what I was going to get. I knew he wouldn’t be fazed. He was cool. He trains like every day is the last day in the world, listens and has a fantastic attitude. I know I can trust that kid.”

The elegant midfielder has risen to prominence since making his debut at Southampton, staving off competition from the likes of Etienne Capoue and Lewis Holtby to start alongside Dembele in the Spurs’ midfield.

And despite suggestions the youngster might break into the France squad ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, he has pledged his allegiance to Algeria.

Bentaleb has appeared once for France’s under-19 side in a friendly, but is allowed to switch allegiance under FIFA rules because he has dual nationality.

His decision resulted in a call-up to Algeria’s squad for their friendly against Slovenia recently and he played the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 victory.

Born in Lille, France, he moved to Belgium to join Mouscron’s youth set-up when he was 15 after being released by his home city’s academy.

Birmingham City invited him to England for a trial in 2011, but Tottenham scouts were so impressed by his performances during that period that they encouraged the EPL club to sign him up immediately.

After joining Spurs in January 2012, Bentaleb played for the club’s under-18 side before progressing to the under-21s for the latter half of last season, where he scored four times in 14 games.

Under Andre Villas-Boas, opportunities were hard to come by and it was only when the Portuguese coach was replaced by Sherwood in December 2013 that Bentaleb found himself training with the first-team squad.

Bentaleb himself is delighted at the progress he has made since Sherwood took the reins at White Hart Lane.

“I was getting ready for a long time and I was waiting for a chance, and the gaffer trusted me and put me in (against Southampton) so I was very happy,” he said. “Does it help that he knows me from the youth team? Of course, he knows me better than anyone else on the pitch so it’s a very big help, and I know what he wants from me as well.

“I am really enjoying (being in the first team) and learning from it as well. I am training with very big players every day, and you can just enjoy it.

“The nerves, you feel them before the game, or when you’re sitting on the bench and you’re getting ready to come on — but once you’re on the pitch you forget everything and I just focus on my own game.”

His Spurs team-mates have touted him as a star of the future following his breakthrough in the first team.

Recently veteran goalkeeper Brad Friedel told talkSPORT: “Nabil looks like he’s got everything. Only time will tell how good he can be. He’s a very good passer of the ball and he’s a player who knows Tim (Sherwood)’s style of play. He wants to get the ball a lot on the half-turn as he looks to play forward.”

Suddenly dreams of a place on the plane to Brazil look a realistic prospect.

FACTFILE Name: Nabil Bentaleb Position: Midfielder Club: Tottenham Hotspur DOB: 24/11/1994 International caps: 1 International goals: 0

Moment to remember: Bentaleb completed 99 passes from 106 attempted against Crystal Palace in January, one of the highest tallies by an EPL midfielder all season.

Moment to forget: He was part of the Tottenham team that was knocked out of the FA Cup in January following a 2-0 defeat to north London rivals Arsenal.

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